Within his seminal "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," King repeatedly makes a distinction between just and unjust laws. He puts it simply by stating that any law that uplifts human personality is just and any law that degrades human personality is unjust. He uses numerous examples of unjust laws to illustrate this distinction, including Nebuchadnezzar, Roman persecution of Christians, the Boston Tea Party, and the systematic genocide of Jews and other minorities by the Nazi party.
This distinction is crucial to his counterargument that disobedience to the law leads to anarchy. About halfway through his letter, King writes:
In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to...
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